Tomb Raider (Credit: Square-Enix)It’s been a wild ride for Lara Croft.
After stunning gamers with her innovative 1996 debut, the Tomb Raider star leaped, shot, puzzled, climbed, tumbled and very much raided through a feast of follow-ups. Few reached the heights of the original game, however, and despite big-screen success via Angelina Jolie, the Tomb Raider franchise has been somewhat lost at sea.
Fittingly, that’s just where we find Lara at the start of the rebooted Tomb Raider, released on March 5. Marooned on a not-entirely-deserted island, the heroine seeks salvation not only from the cruel twist of fate that led to her shipwreck, but from the fickle tastes of gamers grown tired with her cliff-clinging schtick.
As it turns out, salvation is exactly what she’s found. Currently averaging an 87 at Metacritic, Lara’s newest tale finds her back on top of the video game peak.
It wasn’t an easy climb, however. Essentially an origin story, Tomb Raider stars a young Lara who quickly finds herself in over her head trying to survive a harsh tropical environment teeming with unfriendly locals. Darker and grittier than past games, the new tone is welcomed.
“The Lara of the new Tomb Raider isn't the plastic princess that we're used to, she's an ordinary girl who, when thrown into extraordinary circumstances, makes the decision to live through them,” praises The Escapist’s Susan Arendt. “She's strong when the situation demands it, and fragile in the quiet moments between. She's scared, but determined, capable but unsure. She's marvelous.”
“This is the Tomb Raider you’ve wanted for years,” she adds, giving it a perfect 5/5.
Game Informer’s Matt Miller agrees, calling Lara “a great lead” and praising the “emotional, nuanced voice acting” of current Croft Camilla Luddington (“Californication,” “William & Kate”). But the real fun comes from the reboot’s gameplay.
“Tomb Raider strikes a near-perfect balance between traversal, exploration, and combat, and it does so by letting players set that balance themselves,” Miller writes in a 9.25/10 review. “In big and little ways, Tomb Raider embraces the joy of discovery, and the player can’t help but be pulled along for the ride.”
It’s a pretty rough ride, to be sure. Lara gets her hands exceptionally dirty roaming the game’s massive island environment, and not just from gripping crevices. While she initially struggles with the moral vagaries of killing human enemies, Lara eventually locates her inner Rambo and lets it loose.
“Combat has never been the strength of Crystal Dynamics' Tomb Raider games, but the developer has finally nailed it here,” concedes IGN’s Keza MacDonald. “Whether with a bow, a shotgun or a pistol, fighting is fun, and crucially there's not too much of it (though the body-count is certainly high).”
MacDonald also points out that while the game clearly borrows inspiration from other recent action games and occasionally lapses into clichéd moments, “it does so with such confidence and aplomb that you don't mind.”
“Once it gets going, Tomb Raider is high-octane and squeezes your adrenaline gland dry, but it's also got great variety and pacing. There are quiet, tense moments in between the combat-heavy setpieces, and you're never in the same place doing the same thing twice.” She gives it a 9.1/10.
If there’s a rock in Lara’s boot, it’s the game’s seemingly tacked-on multiplayer, which Gamespot’s Carolyn Petit calls “enjoyable but unremarkable” in an 8.5/10 review. The thought’s echoed by Eurogamer’s Ellie Gibson, who believes the competitive shooting “just doesn't make sense thematically.”
“It's the 54th layer of icing on a cake collapsing under the weight of seven thousand glacé cherries,” she insists, hungrily, while doling out a decent 8/10 score.
Most, however, agree the multiplayer can be largely ignored in favor of the scintillating single-player game. Reboots often fall short of the mark-- and rarely pay off as intended -- but it appears Lara’s latest is her most impressive leap in years. Welcome back, Ms. Croft.